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Transforming the Retail Customer Experience with In-store Analytics

Transforming the Retail Customer Experience with In-store Analytics

While online retailers have the advantage of tracking cookies and web analytics tools to calibrate different aspects of an online shopping experience, brick and mortar retailers aren’t as lucky. They have had to depend on much erratic customer insights.
However,in today’s date, even physical retailers are required to hold up to some very high expectations in shopping experiences.

In fact, in order for physical stores to remain relevant, they have to focus on improving the quality of the experience they deliver. This has led to the creation of entire businesses in retail experience innovation.

One of the ways a brick and mortar retailer can provide a quality experience is through the employment of in-store analytics that provides insights into the behavior of the customers and uses that information to engage with their customers as they shop. The use of in-store analytics has revolutionized how retailers understand their customers and how they communicate with them.

How will in-store analytics build up communication between shoppers and retailers?

In order to answer that question it is important to know how In-store analytics works.
For example, when a furniture store to offers free Wi-Fi, it may seem a bit strange.
Actually when the Wi-Fi is enabled on one’s phone, the device sends out a connection request every few seconds on every Wi-Fi channel available. It updates the list of the available networks after listening for a fraction of a second for a response to come back,

Interestingly, when a device probes the Wi-Fi spectrum, it broadcasts its unique MAC address to any device that’s listening. So, as one walks around in that furniture store, every Wi-Fi probe then acts as a beacon for the location. With multiple Wi-Fi access points available inside a single store, it becomes possible to considerably precisely locate each address. As far as the owner of the device is concerned, this happens passively without having to actually join a Wi-Fi network.

Although nothing about a device’s owner is being shared, the retailer can build a picture of what individuals do as they walk around a store. Such as, the number of customers who went to the first floor, the time people tend to spend in a particular region, the waiting period of customers before they come back to the shop.

This aids in understanding the broader shopping habits and interceding with informed in-store customer communication. Instead of having communication with customer transpire at the convenience of the retailer, it can happen at the customer’s convenience. 

Sending an SMS to inform of a sale as an effective marketing tactic. Sending emails every month or even good old direct post may increase customer movement towards a local store. However, a more customer-centric communication of a timely WhatsApp message offering assistance when the furniture store operator gets to know that the customer has spent over 20 minutes in the dining table department.

MAC address tracking to deliver a more personalised Customer Experience

Anonymously tracking a MAC address results in a more personalized customer communication and in understanding individual behavior in the retail experience. As the data increases, the MAC addressing question ceases to just be a randomly generated number and instead represents the behaviors of a real person. At this stage, there’s nothing to identify the individual who owns the phone but it’s possible to build a picture of who they are.

Whether gathered in multiple locations or over a longer time period in just one location, as the data builds it becomes useful in crafting more personalized communication, which can help increase sales and enhance the customer experience.

Relying on anonymized data can deliver only so much, though. And that brings us back to why the furniture store offers free Wi-Fi. As soon as someone signs up for that Wi-Fi, the store can associate the MAC address with whatever data they capture in the sign-up process. At the very least, that’s likely to be a name, email address and cellphone number. Again, that person never has to use the Wi-Fi: as long as they keep the same device, their MAC address and identity are linked.

Other retailers might not rely just on free Wi-Fi. They might have a loyalty or coupon-based mobile app that requires users to provide some personal data. Depending on the phone’s operating system, that app might be able to access the MAC address itself and make the connection for the retailer. Either way, retailers can incentivize shoppers to make their MAC address personally identifiable. And when that happens, communication can truly become personalized.

Respecting the shopper’s personal data

Either through inertia or without realizing it, most people publicly surfing the web are constantly being tracked. Sure, there are some loud voices of complaint but the vast majority of people accept it or don’t care.

As the company behind smart recycling bin advertisements in London and Nordstrom in the US discovered, people are less keen to have their physical location tracked. Even if it’s only an anonymized MAC address, such tracking could feel intrusive.

A value exchange for a richer retail experience

The answer, perhaps, is to take a tip from the loyalty schemes of large retailers: provide a genuine benefit to customers in exchange for gathering valuable data on their habits. Just as loyalty schemes such as Air Miles and Tesco Clubcard offer coupons, cashback, and exclusive store events, retailers can build similar value into retail location tracking and analysis. Rather than silently track customers, they can volitionally opt in to a mobile-phone enabled rewards program when they enter the store-a loyalty scheme for the 21st century.

Location tracking has the potential to transform how retailers communicate with their customers. It will provide the insight to know precisely when to engage and when to leave someone alone. However, it will work only if customers can see a tangible benefit to giving up some of their privacy.

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Automation and AI in Retail: How are stores coping with the change?

AI & Automation in Retail: How are stores coping with the change?

The retail shopping experience is constantly evolving. The stores of the future may look completely different than the ones that customers visit these days. A large contribution to what would make them different would be the integration of AI and automation. Almost every retailer in the world is competing against e-commerce giants like Amazon, and with the introduction of its physical store, Amazon Go, which uses cameras and sensors to charge customers, there is more competition. Tech companies are seeking to roll out powerful automation tools for retailers, but will these tools be able to entice customers?

Automation is a preferred choice

The benefits of automation have already been experienced on a smaller scale with supermarkets offering self-checkout kiosks. While retailers invest considerably in these innovations, some of the benefits can be decreased reliance on the staff, and ensuring that the customers complete their shopping journey seamlessly. Furthermore, a study also concluded that a majority of US consumers believe that self-checkout kiosks enhance the store experience.

The checkout process can be made faster and simpler using a smartphone, and customers may no longer need to stand in long queues. They can use apps that are designed to read barcodes of  products and automatically generate the bill for the customer within the app itself.

It is important to note, however, that these innovations do not replace the human effort and it simply supports the staff and makes the logistics process more efficient.

robot standing near luggage bags

Going beyond checkout

Automating the checkout is only one application of automation. Some other applications can be bots that can automatically stock shelves or smart devices that can provide signals for products going out of stock or nearing expiration dates. These applications can help store managers to efficiently manage the inventory with the right data.

Automation as Customer Service

Retailers are increasingly using Robotic Process Automation to make transactions and providing answers for simple customer queries faster. This ensures that the customers are provided with the help that they need, without the need for engaging the store staff. The US retailer Lowe, as an excellent example of application of this idea, introduced the LoweBot – an in-store robot that converses with customers and helps them locate items in the store using real time inventory tracking. Furthermore, it acts as an alternative source of information for customers who have simple questions, freeing up employees to attend to customers who need more guidance with their queries.

Automation and Pick-Up Trends Merge

Many retailers, such as Target, provide customers with the option of placing an order online and having it picked up at a nearby store without having to get out of the car, much like Drive-Thru at fast food chains.

This facility in its current model, however, requires human involvement. . As soon as the store receives an order, a staff member is required to bag the order, while another may be required to take them to the customer’s vehicle. While this is a convenient option for the customer, it creates  labor inefficiency for the store. Automating these processes would free up the staff allowing them to help the customers in-store and streamline the pickup routine for customers.

selective focus photography of group of people selecting vinyl record sleeves

Despite the stiff competition online, in-store shopping will survive, however, it needs to change to meet changing customer needs and preferences. Retailers must realize the importance of AI and automation and capitalize on it to stay ahead. The goal should be not to out-do e-commerce giants like Amazon but to provide an involved face-to-face customer service in a welcoming environment.

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